Adventures in Micro-Business: How small monkeys made it in a big jungle

Each month, Russell Smith answers your queries and profiles a small business with a big challenge
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The Independent Online

Angie Moxham set up her business in May 2003 after the sale of Le Fevre Communications, a PR company that she co-owned with a business partner. That, and the arrival of a baby daughter, gave the Oxford graduate a chance to rethink her future. "I knew I wanted to stay in PR, but I also wanted a business that could offer flexibility for employees while still delivering a first-class service to clients. Having reviewed a number of options, I realised that this would mean branching out on my own."

Angie Moxham set up her business in May 2003 after the sale of Le Fevre Communications, a PR company that she co-owned with a business partner. That, and the arrival of a baby daughter, gave the Oxford graduate a chance to rethink her future. "I knew I wanted to stay in PR, but I also wanted a business that could offer flexibility for employees while still delivering a first-class service to clients. Having reviewed a number of options, I realised that this would mean branching out on my own."

The target clients for any PR business are the blue-chip companies capable of awarding large contracts. But many take the "safe" option of hiring a big London agency, rather than a smaller PR firm, even if it costs more. So Angie's key challenge has been to persuade clients that her small business could handle a big account. "I was convinced that the key to success was having the right people on board," she says. But hiring them wasn't easy.

With a downturn in the PR market, Angie found that many PR executives were staying put in larger companies rather than taking a career risk with a smaller agency. So she set about creating a name and a brand for her company that would appeal to people with an entrepreneurial approach.

The business name "3 Monkeys" is just one part of the overall culture that has been instrumental in attracting the right staff. For example, boring job titles are banned: Angie is "Chief Monkey" and it says so on her business card. Ali Gee, formerly head of Orange's multimedia division, is "Ginger Monkey", while Annabel Dunstan, who wins a lot of new business for the company, is "Cheeky Monkey".

This bold branding strategy has paid off and Angie is now well on her way to building the "dream team" with nine people already on board. But just as important, customers have warmed to the new business as well. 3 Monkeys now works with a diverse portfolio of clients including the charity Age Concern, the fruit importers Capespan and Additions Direct, the fashion catalogue.

Adventures in Micro-Business

Q. I am convinced that one of my employees has an alcohol problem. Where can I get advice on what to do?

A. Alcohol and work don't mix. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult issue for an employer to resolve. A useful starting point for advice is the "Don't mix it" guide available from the excellent Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website ( www.hse.gov.uk/pubns).

Q. I have been told that RDAs offer various kinds of support for small businesses. Could you explain what they are please?

A. There are nine Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in England and they are tasked with "transforming England's regions through sustainable economic development". Find out more information from the Department of Trade and Industry website ( www.consumer.gov.uk/rda). I suggest that your local Business Link adviser ( www.businesslink.gov.uk) would be the best person to ask about RDA initiatives in your particular region that may be helpful for your business.

Q. I've heard that my business might qualify for a grant but that 'matched funding' of 50 per cent will be required. What does this mean?

A. Matched funding of 50 per cent simply means that if you get a grant of £1,000 then you must match that with £1,000 from your business. Using this approach is a way to ensure that grants go to projects for which the business owners are prepared to invest their own money.

QUESTIONS PLEASE

Send your questions to Prof Russell Smith at ios@businessboffins.com. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice.

Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers sustainability support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate; see www.businessboffins.com/ios

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